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Hood River Incident Collection

Hood River Incident Collection

Pile of letters with handwritten addresses
Letters from the Hood River Incident Collection

During World War II, American Legion Post 22, headed by Commander Jess Edington, erected a billboard in downtown Hood River honoring those who were currently serving in the war. Known as an honor roll, the names of more than 1,600 men and women from the Hood River Valley, including those of Japanese descent, were on display as a public memorial to their service.

Then, on the evening of November 29, 1944, Post 22 members blacked out the names of the 16 Japanese American soldiers listed on the honor roll.

This racist act was no isolated incident. People of Japanese descent started immigrating to the Hood River valley in the early 1900s. By 1940, their small but growing population equaled 4% of the population, but they were producing 25% of the valley’s agriculture, a testament to their success as farmers. In part because of this prosperity, white farmers in the area were growing increasingly hostile to their presence.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government’s decision to ban all Nikkei from the West Coast only fed into these sentiments. Japanese Americans from Hood River joined the military to fight in the war, even though most of them had family incarcerated at one of the concentration camps set up by the government to isolate people of Japanese descent.

The removal of the 16 names from the honor roll was covered in national news outlets and led to a large public reaction, both for and against the racist act.

People from all over the country wrote to Post 22 via letter, postcard, and telegram. These correspondences were filed away and eventually donated to the Japanese American Museum of Oregon in 2022 by present-day Post 22 members as part of a larger reconciliation effort. That year, they organized a special Veterans Day event to honor Nisei soldiers and officially apologize for the Legion’s actions in 1944.

Two men in American Legion uniforms stand at a podium. One is ringing a bell.
Vice Commander Dennis Leonard and Commander Carl Casey of the American Legion Hood River Post 22 at the 2022 Veterans Day ceremony. Courtesy Rich Iwasaki

The Hood River Incident Collection contains over 600 correspondences. Images of the letters along with transcriptions of those that were handwritten are now available to the public through the Japanese American Museum of Oregon’s website.

As you read through the letters, you will find many that mention the name of Frank Hachiya. Some of the media stories focused on him specifically, as his death in the war happened around the same time that the names were blacked out by the Legion.  Frank’s name was actually left off the original honor roll since he was drafted into the military outside of the Hood River Valley, but his story still galvanized the public against Post 22’s actions.

Many letters against the removal assert that a person’s ethnicity had little to do with their loyalty to America—that a person of Japanese descent can be a soldier in the U.S. military alongside someone of German, Irish, English, or French descent.

A person sits at a table looking through the letters.
Volunteer Wynn Kiyama processes the collection at the Japanese American Museum of Oregon.

The letters that support the removal can be difficult to read. Some contain virulently hateful and racist language, including racial slurs. Those accessing the collection database are cautioned that they may find some of the material harmful.

After five months of public outcry, the American Legion Post 22 officially voted to restore the names. Once the names were restored, additional letters started coming to Post 22 thanking them for finally “doing the right thing,” even if members’ personal stance on the matter didn’t necessarily change. Japanese Americans returning to Hood River after the war continued to face racist backlash. 

A photo of a courthouse or other official looking building with a long billboard filled with names in small print attached to the facade of the building.
The Hood River honor roll. Courtesy The History Museum of Hood River County

George Akiyama
Masaaki Asai
Taro Asai
Noboru Hamada
Kenjiro Hayakawa
Shigenobu Imai
Fred Mitsuo Kinoshita
George Kinoshita
Sagie Nishioka
Mamoru Noji
Henry K. Norimatsu
Katsumi Sato
Harry Osamu Takagi
Eichi Wakamatsu
Johnny Y. Wakamatsu
Bill Shyuichi Yamaki

Newspaper clippings with the headlines Legion Post Arouses Ire of 7th's GIs, Legon Tells Nisei Not to Come Home; Nisei Snubbed by Legion Dies a Hero's Death, and Memorial Bars Japanese.
Stories about the incident appeared in The New York Times, Life magazine, Collier’s, and countless local newspapers all over the United States. These clippings were sent to the Legion along with the letters and are part of the collection.

This project was funded in part by the Oregon Heritage Commission, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. Further support was provided by Oregon Nisei Veterans, Inc. and the Portland JACL.

Lucy Capehart
James Rodgers
Erin Schmith
Jeremy Seith
Wynn Kiyama
Natalie Montalvo
Joanna Reese

Carl Casey, Commander, American Legion
Hood River Post 22
The History Museum of Hood River County
Dennis Leonard Vice Commander, American Legion Hood River Post 22
Linda Tamura

Oreon Nisei Veterans Logo
Oregon Heritage Commission